Sunday, February 5, 2012

Japan Part 1 - My First White Christmas

I have sat down to write this blog entry for weeks and weeks. I am sorry it has been so long, bad blogger, naughty. My experience in Japan was so amazing, and my life since I have been back has been so hectic that it has taken me over a month to write. Oh gosh, that sounds horrible. I promise I’ll make it up to you.

Christmas in the snow was amazing! I have never had a white Christmas (as you may have intimated from the title of this post) and so never knew what I was missing, now I do.

To start at the beginning: on December 23rd my class performed a fantastic little dance to Jingle Bell Rock in the end of term show, I received a multitude of new towels (a traditionally Thai gift for the New Year apparently) from various parents and co-workers, then I began my 24hr voyage to Hakuba in Japan.

My little performers.

Ope and Nam all dolled up

The boyz

Me and some of my class before the show

I won't go in the details of the trip from Thailand to Japan here, it's to painful to relive (apart from the spectacular bowl of miso ramen i ate at a random truck stop about an hour South of Nagino) but I will tell you that the second I arrived in Hakuba it started to snow, and that's where the fun begins.

It was snowing when I arrived in Hakuba - December 24th

Dad outside Morino Lodge, where we stayed - Dec 24th

I arrived at dinner time on Christmas eve, had a bite with my parents, who had arrived earlier than me, and went to sleep. It snowed all through dinner, and as I slept it came down too.

I woke the next day and looked out the window in awe. The road, the houses, the trees, everything was covered in snow and it continued to snow! I have never had a white Christmas, in fact I have only ever had one other non-summer Christmas, so I have never been really understood the reverent tones that people use when they speak about their frosty Christmases. But that all changed when I stepped outside – WOW! So beautiful! And to make matters 100% better we were going up the mountain to snowboard – win! 

The log cabin/ginger bread house outside my bedroom window.

Christmas morning.

 Dad and I had a mega day of powder and groomed runs, no queues, lots of friendly Japanese people swishing down the slopes with us, and all the way through it just kept dumping snow. I cannot describe how exquisite it was! I had such a beautiful morning, but I was sooooooooooooo cold! I had come from 10 months living in Thailand so by 1:30pm I was really cold and really hungry too.

Christmas Day - My first white Christmas

Christmas day

We had such a lovely lunch that day. Normally Christmas lunch is cold meats, salads, fresh fruit, prawns and other yummy summery foods, but Sue and Craig and I just wandered around for a bit in Hakuba where we found a tiny soba noodle place. We ordered a tofu dish, 2 noodle dishes and some beer. It was simple and it was taste-tacular! I remember thinking ‘I could get used to this.’ I mean we had just walked in off the street, the place was tiny but it was such wholesome and yummy food, really nourishing, it warmed me right up 
We decided to walk back to the lodge so we could see some of the beautiful snowscape. We walked through the temple – WOW – and then through a pine forest - WOW! I had my camera out the whole time, I couldn’t stop clicking, it was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. I have really been missing out. I never knew the snow could be this amazing, so perfect and did you know it makes a little squeaking sound when you walk on it? I LOVED it!!

Walking through the snow covered temple.

Walking back tot he lodge through the temple,
with the 1000 year old tree.

Dad on Christmas Day

Sue & Craig walking back through the snow

That night our amazing lodge had put on a SPECTACULAR Christmas dinner for 50 people. It was just like what you see in American movies. Roast turkey and pork, stuffing, roasted veggies galore, beautiful salads, yummy roasted potatoes, gravy and all kinds of condiments. I went a bit nuts (some of everything) and had a mega food hangover the next day. Man was it good. Seriously a Christmas to remember. And still it hadn’t stopped snowing.

Ginger bread house on Christmas Eve.


Me at Morino Lodge, ready for Christmas dinner

The next 2 days ran like this:
8am Wake –up/ Breakfast at lodge
9 – 1:30 Fun fun funnnnnnnnnnnn snowboarding
1:30 meet Sue for some yummy Japanese lunch
3pm have a nap/shiatsu massage/read books
7pm Dinner – yum yum
9:45pm ZzzzzzzZZzzz

The groovy chef at a restaurant in Hakuba.

Lunch at our fave local restaurant. Yum home made meatballs and warm sake 

Cooking on a hot rock at a fab restaurant that specialised in wagu beef.

On the 28th, a day before we were due to leave Hakuba for Kyoto, we went on a tour which led us to see the beautiful little snow monkeys who live in the hot springs nearby, then to a small town called Obuse where we would have lunch in a converted sake brewery, then onto Nagano where we would visit a very special temple, the 3rd largest wooden temple in Japan.

The view from the bus window. A field covered in snow with beautiful mountains behind. 

Snow covered rice fields.

Our tour guide deserves a mention here because he was really fantastic and added a lot to my experience. He was a middle aged American man who had made Japan his home. He has a little family, lives in a local village, does a bit of light farming and is generally a groovy kind of guy. He spoke a lot, as tour guides do, but he was super interesting and I found myself missing his voice when he finally sat down as we drove along the motorway toward the hot springs.

 The snow monkeys have a good deal. They hang out in the warm water all day, have their photos taken and eat the seeds provided, and at night they retreat back to the forest where they no doubt swap stories about how there was a group of those really weird creatures with the black things stuck to their faces at the springs again today.

They were cute, but kinda scary but still cute, does that make sense? I was right up close to them snapping away, which we were told was ok, and one of them didn’t like the way I moved so he hissed at me. I jumped so high and so fast, it was more than a little freaky. But having said that there were some super cute moments, like the one little monkey who sat in the middle of the springs on a rock and just examined his little feet...for about 10mins. SO CUTE!

In the background - the monkey that loved his foot.

Mmmmmmmm foot.

Sue and Craig

I took one gazillion photos and I will not bore you with them all, needless to say the monkeys were cute, and a bit crazy.

After we’d annoyed the monkeys enough we got back on our little tour bus and went to Obuse, a little artsy town. We had lunch (it was ok, mass produced for tourists so not amazing) and I ordered a really delicious little bottle of warm sake, made on the premises – yummo!

You’ll never guess what came next. We’re in Obuse, this quiet little town, and it just happens to be the home of the HOKUSAI Museum – pause for sharp intake of breath – I KNOW right?! I LOVE Hokusai! In fact I love Hokusai so much I have The Great Wave of Kanagawa tattooed on my back.

You can sort of see my wave tattoo in this pic. 

Outside the Hokusai Museum in Obuse

 I was, needless to say, quite restless through the lunch and shot off as soon as we were done eating because we only had 30 mins in the village. I stood in front of the various prints that went into making up the final Great Wave image and tears rolled down my face. I was overwhelmed.
We saw so many beautiful prints that day, but the most amazing (apart from the great wave) was the carvings and paintings done in wood panels for ceremonial caravans. WWWWWWWWOOOOOOOOOOOW!

Chestnut icecream - YUM!

After lunch and a short stop in Obuse we went to Nagano where we visited a beautiful wooden temple. We arrived at 3pm-ish and the sun was starting to go down so there was a beautiful glow about everything.

I loved this little shrine. The little raccoon is so cute. 

Walking up a beautiful stone corridor to the temple.

On December 29th we had to say goodbye to Hakuba and the amazing staff at Morino Lodge. Just a little note here to say if you are looking for a fab place to stay in Japan I can’t say enough good things about Hakuba and Morino lodge. Our experience there was one of the best I have ever had and I will definitely be going back!

We hopped on a little local train that took us to a bigger town called something like Matsimoto where we connected with a bullet train, and then we had to switch trains again to get to Kyoto. All I’m going to say about the bullet trains in Japan is that they’re super fast (like a bullet I guess), a little expensive, punctual and there’s not really enough room for your suitcases. 

On the train, saying goodbye to the mountains.

So that ends the snowy Christmas portion of my japan trip but stay tuned for Japan Part 2 – Kyoto & NYE

1 comment:

  1. Hello Miss Bliss,

    I hope you won't mind that I looked you up. A rare name and a liking for writing suggested I might find a blog...
    Since our paths crossed you've found a little space in my head and I couldn't resist. What to expect now I know not, but then I guess that's half the fun. It may be a beginning or an end...
    Whichever it is, I hope that life is good to you.